The coparenting study contributes to our growing understanding of how complex family systems operate, with different relationships influencing each other.
When parents work well together as a team – known as “coparenting” – fathers tend to be more involved in caring for the children, according to a new study of disadvantaged parents in the USA.
It is easy to understand why positive coparenting could promote more father engagement, and why more father engagement could promote a better parental relationship. This finding suggests that when it comes to help with raising young children, it’s important to support both mothers and fathers. A federal program in the USA, Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood, which began in 2005, provides exactly this kind of support among low–income families. The study of coparenting and father engagement was part of the evaluation of this program.
Whilst coparenting and father engagement are linked for all fathers in the ‘here and now’, the study also found a link across time. Resident fathers were more likely to beactively involved in care when a child was 36 months old if both the mother and the father reported better coparenting when the child was 15 months old. This link was not found among non-resident fathers, perhaps because their inconsistent presence means that what happens at one time point in the family has less effect on what happens at another.
The link between coparenting and later father involvement was not found in relation to fathers playing more with children—perhaps because fathers may engage in play regardless of the quality of the coparenting relationship with the mother.
In the study, involving 1,908 families, mothers and fathers were interviewed by phone when their child was 15 months old and again when 36 months old. Fathers were classified as resident if they lived with the mother most or all of the time, and non-resident if none or only some of the time.
Coparenting was measured with ratings like “My child’s other parent and I communicate well about our child” and “I feel good about my child’s other parent’s judgment about what is right for our child.” Both parents’ responses were combined into a single measure of coparenting quality.
Involvement in caring was measured by asking fathers how often they did things like dress and feed the child or change diapers. Engagement in play covered activities such as singing, reading, telling stories and playing games.
The study contributes to our growing understanding of how complex family systems operate, with different relationships influencing each other.
Header photo: Anna Pruzhevskaya. Creative Commons.
Lee JY, Volling BL, Lee SJ & Altschul I (2020), Longitudinal relations between coparenting and father engagement in low-income residential and nonresidentialfather-families, Journal of Family Psychology